Biocultural Models in Studies of Human Health and Adaptation


Department of Anthropology, State University of New York at Buffalo, 380 MFAC, Buffalo, NY 14261.


Biocultural studies, defined as research on questions of human biology and medical ecology that specifically includes social, cultural, or behavioral variables in the research design, offer valuable models for studying the interface between biological and cultural factors affecting human well-being. Two models of biocultural research predominate in health studies: one which integrates biological, environmental, and cultural data, and a second, more segmented model in which biological data are primary and data on culture and environment are secondary. Although critics have claimed that biological studies ignore the role of social and political systems in health, the studies included in this issue counter such criticism with research models that include cultural and political stressors. To illustrate an additional dimension of the integrative biocultural approach, I discuss models for understanding morning sickness, perception and tolerance of pain in labor, and depression in the postpartum period. Though these phenomena are clearly both biologically and culturally determined, they are usually studied by anthropologists only in their cultural dimension and by medical researchers in their biological dimension. Biocultural study of reproduction and of other aspects of women's health will contribute to transdisciplinary collaboration and, it is hoped, will also reduce the fragmentation of medical anthropology.